Streetwise: A name unshorn

When Karkur decided to make its street names politically correct, only Rehov Samson was spared the knife.

About 10 years ago, the Karkur Municipality decided that streets would no longer be named after people and any that already were would be changed to something more neutral. So Rehov Kaufman had all its signs removed and new ones installed proclaiming it was now Rehov Hamoshava. Only one street survived this harsh decree. Rehov Samson would keep its name; the street sign, the very first to go up in the sleepy village, is still there. Rehov Shimshon, as it is known today, is a memorial to an early Zionist who came from Horodische in Poland to Blaina in South Wales and from there to Palestine in 1932 to build on land he had acquired in 1913. The fascinating story of Moshe Samson was told to me by Dr. Melvyn Brooks, a world authority on the London Borough of Hackney and a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about Karkur, where he and his wife, Roma, have lived for 35 years. He also lent me a book he received from Samson's nephew, Norman Samson, an American rabbi who visited the place many times and in 1983 recorded his entire family history, including the part relating to Moshe, his father's much older brother who left Horodische for the UK before Norman's father was born. Karkur is today connected to Pardess Hanna; both are small towns that retain their bucolic character even as they expand. Rehov Moshe Samson has two street signs - the old one hidden behind a fence and the newer which proclaims that the street is Rehov Shimshon, ostensibly named for the biblical hero, more visible. The street is still unpaved, with wild bougainvillea growing profusely and new villas built next to humble pioneers' cottages. The Samson family villa, built in 1932, is still one of the largest and most impressive houses in the village. According to Brooks, it had the first private swimming pool in the country and he even got into an argument with a guide at the Weizmann home in Rehovot who claimed theirs was the first pool. Moses Samson, born in 1875 in Horodische, left toward the end of the 19th century, probably to avoid being drafted into the czar's army, and arrived in England, eventually marrying into a well-known Jewish family and settling in a small village, Blaina, in Monmouthshire, South Wales. There he and his wife, Anne, operated a dry-goods store for many years. Always a passionate Zionist, when the London Ahuza Company was formed after the Balfour Declaration to buy land in Palestine, Moses became one of its directors. He deposited £1,000 and in 1920 made his first trip to Palestine, entrusted with the job of purchasing land for the establishment of a Jewish settlement. This large tract of land east of Hadera on the Sharon plain was to become Karkur. He made several trips to Karkur over the years and, writes Norman, "was thrilled anew each time to behold the progress of the community he had helped to establish. Unlike a number of other British gentlemen joined with him in the Karkur venture, Uncle Moses was never content to remain just an absentee landlord in Eretz Yisrael." In 1935 he built his villa and lived there for a while. But Anne missed her native Welsh hills and they returned to Blaina, also because of the outbreak of war in 1939. The house became the officers' mess for the British army stationed at Mahaneh Shmonim, today an IDF training base. After the war they came back to live in the villa, but Anne wanted to leave again, this time, says Brooks, because she couldn't get any butter. Eventually they sold the house in 1947. Samson owned nine dunams and gave much of it away to the needy. Even today there is a man in the local synagogue who has been there since 1945 and has told Brooks that if it wasn't for Moses Samson he would not have a home. Norman Samson first met his uncle when he visited Wales as a soldier in 1943, and again in Karkur in 1947 after two years of studies at Hebrew University. "I recall this memorable visit. For me it was a rare opportunity to renew the acquaintance with father's oldest brother, a brother whom father himself was never to see... now uncle's innermost dreams and aspirations unfolded before me as we strolled slowly down the paths of the village he had helped to create. "He would point out the history of every building, of every civic improvement. He was especially proud of the synagogue. Passing by a café he sadly noted that the place was open on the Sabbath despite his many pleas to the owner to respect the holy day. "On all sides we were greeted with 'Shalom Adon Samson.' He was truly an impressive figure with his British cap and cane. It was as if he were the honorary mayor or patron of the village. I felt it a singular honor to be with him and accounted his nephew." Norman recounts how it saddened his uncle that the children in the nursery school on the corner of his street couldn't understand his British-accented Hebrew nor could he catch their fluent Sephardic-accented speech. "Here he was in the ancient homeland, yet he could not understand the children's chatter," writes Norman. The next day he and Moses walked the five kilometers to Pardess Hanna and Norman comments on his uncle's good physical condition. Moses confided to his nephew that he intended buying back the villa, and a few months later Norman visited again, this time to the house where Moses now lived in splendid isolation. Aunt Anne and the children (including a son who had been given the moniker Theodor Herzl Samson) had all stayed in Wales. Moses delighted in showing his American nephew around his estate and was especially proud of his etrog trees and his bananas, as well as the view of the Sharon plain and the hills of Samaria from the roof of the house. Eventually Moses realized that even after the establishment of the state his family was not going to join him. He again sold the house, this time to a New Zealand couple, Leila and Zvi Benjamin. Leila is still alive and has just moved to a retirement home. She used to say she had a phone with a two-digit number, but only three numbers she could call - her husband at the Hadera paper mill, the local health-fund clinic and the post office. The nine dunams were distributed, some to the Jewish National Fund as a gift, and it was here that the nursery school, still there today on the corner of the street, was built. Moses Samson died on June 8, 1963. On the first yahrzeit, Norman returned to Karkur for a memorial and dedication ceremony in the kindergarten, to be known as the Moses Samson Nursery School. Also, the street was now officially named Rehov Samson.